A Few Books Everyone Should Read

So summer is here and everyone is making their summer reading lists, so I thought I should make mine. The way I chose these books is based entirely on impact and relevance that they still hold today. It’s the fact that how much these books have influenced the way our society functions that people should educate themselves on these ideas, even if they don’t necessarily agree with them. But that’s the beautiful thing about education: you don’t have to agree with everything. Educating yourself on opposing views in no way makes you dumber. I also did not make this list numbering the books in importance, I just couldn’t bring myself to it.

  • The Bible: It’s hard to start with how much this book has impacted human history and even our contemporary world. Even if you don’t agree with religion or christian ideals, this book is crucial just in putting history into perspective.
  • The Quran: Again with impacting the religious world. Islam is the world’s second largest religion with approximately 1.6 billion followers. To begin to approach issues throughout history and those playing on the evening news, an understanding of the Quran is important in understanding those issues.
  • Origin of SpeciesCharles Darwin’s book published that proposed the evolution of species is still controversial today. And though, published as a piece of science, this book has historical relevance as well. Many policies during America’s Gilded Age were dubbed as “Social Darwinism” and continue to impact religion, politics, and science today and far into the future.
  • The Communist ManifestoYes communism, that dirty word that nobody is allowed to utter. Marx has a lot of important things to say in this declaration, even if you don’t believe in communism. There is so much misinformation and propaganda surrounding the cold war, the first step is understand what countries such as the Soviet Union actually believe.
  • The Wealth of Nations: Adam Smith’s seminal book exploring topics such as capitalism and free markets. Smith’s examination of economics is key to understanding schools of thought endorsing free markets, such as the majority of libertarianism.

I tried to create this list with a balance of opposing views, for instance putting both The Communist Manifesto and Wealth of Nations, two very different books. I’m considering writing a light reading list later on. I understand not everyone wants to sit around all day reading Origin of Species so I might make a list for more enjoyable books soon.

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32 thoughts on “A Few Books Everyone Should Read

  1. Have read many of these and I agree with your list. I think a lot of misunderstanding is due to not taking the time to explore and learn about subjects that are out of our comfort zone.

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  2. Great list! I’ve read all of these and I would highly recommend getting Abdel Haleem’s translation of the Qur’an, it’s one of the most accurate versions available and it really goes out of its way to preserve the nuance of the original Arabic. Also, pay special attention to Smith’s use of the phrase “an invisible hand.” A lot of Libertarians love to site it, but not a lot of them seem to understand what Smith was actually trying to say.

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        • I feel to an extent it is outside many people’s comfort zones. Many people know the teachings of the Bible, but even less have read it. And in western culture at least even less than that have read the Quran. I agree though that Zinn does an extremely good job of pushing people outside their comfort zones and informing them of new ideas.

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  3. The Communist Manifesto is a good read. Though it is also quite depressing, when one considers how many of the communist planks are now controlling law (or when our politicians run on platforms derived thereof).

    1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public
    purposes.
    2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
    3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
    4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
    5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank
    with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
    6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the
    State.
    7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the
    bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally
    in accordance with a common plan.
    8. Equal liability of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for
    agriculture.
    9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of
    all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.
    10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s
    factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial
    production, &c, &c.

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    • I wouldn’t say its more of communist ideals in play of politics, I would say its in the spirit of these ideals and only of the most ardent members of the left parties. A few of Marx’s ideas can seem outdated, but that doesn’t make his ideas any less important to hear out.

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  4. Have you made a list of fictions that have impacted on society? That would be very interesting too. Much social commentary and significant changes have been made through fictional works like Great Expectations, A Tale of two Cities, Steppenwolf…to name a very few. Love your list.

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  5. Communist manifesto is a good idea…. without knowing that much about it, I just want to say that (1) the direction the USSR took was maybe different than what Marx had in mind in the mid 19th century, and (2) Marx himself is pretty heavy handed, in my opinion. There was communism before him. the word comes from the French Revolution I think, and communist arrangements existed forever in primitive peoples as well as community level experiments within industrialized countries — all these have different flavors.

    For some very inspiring take on the philosophies of American social-liberal (i.e., activist government, maybe even lightly socialist, but with equality of opportunity as the goal) and American economic-liberal (i.e., free-market-purist, ultra minimal government) views, I’d suggest a class I once took where the two reading’s were Rawls’ “Theory of Justice” and Nozick’s “Anarchy, State, and Utopia” (both from the 1970’s, when the US was undergoing some major changes). These are a little hard to read but very, very worth it.

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    • There were collectivist societies long before capitalist societies, and, I believe, we couldn’t have developed the same without those societies. Marx took the example of the Paris Commune in the French Revolution as the transition towards socialism. The only reason why Marx is considered the father of communism is because he brought the ideas of socialism together into a compelling argument and added so much into the theory.

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  6. Marx’s realisation was that many philosophers (including himself) had analysed society: but that the point was to change it. That’s the hard bit. Lenin failed, Mao failed. On the other hand, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan changed society in the 1980s. But the wrong way. They made the rich richer. It’s not just the right books: it’s the right people reading the right books.

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    • That’s interesting, I’ve never thought of that. So that would mean spreading his teachings to as many as possible, because although it doesn’t hurt anyone to read, the more readers the more likely one of the “right” people will read them.

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      • I think so. That’s what you’re doing with this list aren’t you? On the other hand, reading is not enough, one should be committed to one’s belief. If Christian, turn the other cheek and love one’s enemies, if a follower of Islam, submit to the will of Allah. If Communist (in the sense of Marxist, a now highly inexact term) then work towards a more equitable sharing of goods and services. It’s hard to do. Commitment doesn’t mean blowing people up or abusing them. But ideas are powerful things.They have changed people and events in ways undreamed of. And it all starts with awareness of them. And as ideas are often misrepresented, you are on the right track: go back to the source of them.

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  7. Yes, I agree with the Bible on the list. Just be sure to understand that it is culturally based and the points to realize are to be found when digging past the Hebrew culture. The Qur’an is one I have read several times and agree should be read if only to understand your enemy. The Communist Manifesto should be read only after one has had some learning in human psychology so that where it demands that human nature be abolished or governed counter to it can be understood better; Plato did a better job formulating a utopian society in The Republic and he was wise enough to understand that it cannot work. The Wealth of Nations is an excellent read, showing how capitalism works with human nature for the benefit of all. And finally, The Origin of the Species, and I list it last because I forgot about it as I was writing this; In Job there is the comment Look To The Earth and Learn or depending upon the translation Speak With the Earth and Learn. The Earth (The Universe) is God’s Word more so than the Bible as it is more direct and filtered through human culture.

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  8. I would add Richard Dawkins – The Selfish Gene
    Goedel, Escher, Bach – Eternal Golden Braid – Doug Hofstadter
    A history of economic thought – Eric Roll
    Relativity; The special and general theory – Albert Einstein
    A critique of Pure Reason – Immanuel Kant

    All contain errors, and all add something significant.

    And agree with Phillip – ideas are not enough alone, unless they lead to effective action at some point.

    It seems possible to create a world based upon cooperation and justice, and it will require upgrading a few operative paradigms.
    Evolution is great, and we need to acknowledge the power of cooperation in evolution, and not simply the role of competition. All major advances in systems complexity of evolved systems are characterised by the emergence of new levels of cooperation.

    We need to upgrade our socially dominant value paradigm from one of markets (money) to those of universal life and liberty for all sapient entities (human and non-human, biological and non-biological).

    Those two things alone would substantially improve security for everyone.

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  9. Whoa this is a heavy list! I’d love to see your less serious, more “fun” examples. I really enjoy gathering well-read individual’s favorite books just to expose myself to a larger variety of genres. What would be some of your recommendations? Also, thanks for visiting my site! I haven’t officially “launched” it yet if you will but it was exciting getting a reader either way!

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  10. Couldn’t agree more with your list. I think it wise for people to be open minded to a new and different prespective (like religion, political point of view, etc.). I’m a muslim and sometimes I read bible, there is nothing wrong with reading to seek knowledge and inspiration for good. But they always judge a book from it’s cover.

    I think people also should read,
    Stephen Hawking’s – A Brief History of Time
    Karen Armstrong’s – A History of God
    Dante’s – Inferno *The Divine Comedy
    xo

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  11. This is an excellent choice of books. You don’t have to agree with the conclusions but it will inform you about the rest of the world. The funniest comment I got from a Muslim colleague (who was trying to praise me) was about a short story in the Koran where a holy woman ignored the stray animals during Ramadan but the prostitute kept feeding them and went to Heaven. I guess I was the prostitute but I understood his gentle intent! BTW, Europeans are not as neurotic about the word communism. Truth is that it doesn’t work very well because we are a successful, striving, greedy species.

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  12. The Communist Manifesto is a great book, regardless if you agree with its ideology or not. Marx and Hegel, but more so Marx, was one of the greatest minds of the 19th century. The Communist Manifesto is also far more digestible than ‘Das Kapital’, his opus on Communism.

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